For those who lasted the entire 5 hours and 53 minutes, it was a quarter of a day well spent. To see Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal battle out the longest Grand Slam final in the history of men’s tennis was rather astonishing, and those who were courtside realised they’d been witness to something truly remarkable. It wasn’t just the sheer endurance of the Number One and Two in the world that was remarkable, but the same level of skill and intensity that they kept up for the duration of the contest, ended as Djokovic guided a forehand winner past his opponent. He collapsed to the floor in triumph, celebrating his third Australian Open title and fifth Grand Slam title. The question remains though, where does men’s tennis go from here?
There is no doubt Djokovic is the game’s supreme player, he proved that both in the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night and the whole of last season, losing just the six matches all year, whilst collecting ten tournaments, ranking 2011 for Djokovic as one of the best seasons of sport ever seen. The thing is, this triumph can only serve to strengthen the Serb even further, and having dug so very down at 4-2 in the fifth decider, he now knows there is no match he cannot come back in. The French Open is the title missing from his collection, indeed win that and he holds all four major trophies, something not seen since Laver himself did it in 1969. Djokovic will now feel he could beat Nadal on clay, a surface where the Spaniard has previously seemed invincible. However, there is no doubt that Novak holds the mental edge over his rival, having beaten him in three successive Grand Slam finals, even Nadal has admitted as much. If Djokovic triumphs at Roland Garros, who can stop him winning the Grand Slam in 2012 given the consistency of his game. Given the world number one is still only 24, he could well go onto dominate men’s tennis, much in the way Federer did before Nadal ended his run of superiority at the top. The rest of the world should watch out.
For Nadal himself, well losing in such a manner must have been galling. Having fought back valiantly to take the fourth set tie-breaker, he must have thought the title was his, especially being a break of serve up in the decider. Although it wasn’t to be, Nadal can still take heart from the defeat, Djokovic’s hoodoo over him isn’t quite as strong as it may seem and Nadal will fancy his chances in the clay court season of getting his own back. The Spaniard’s warrior-like style will ensure he is a threat in whatever match he plays and Rafa will undoubtedly add to his ten Grand Slam titles, especially given his tender age of 25. It remains to be seen what impact Nadal’s style of play will have later in his career, indeed it could be injuries that derail this man’s fabulous career given the immense strain he puts on his body. In the past year, Nadal’s troublesome knee has showed signs of deteriorating even further and the heavy strapping has become part of his uniform on the court. It would be a devastating blow to the sport if this robs tennis of one of its finest.
What about tennis’s finest ever player (arguably)? Federer is now without a Slam in two years, since his victory in Melbourne over Andy Murray in 2010. This is an extremely barren patch for the 16-time Grand Slam Champion, who on his day plays sublime tennis that you can only simply dream of. But future success is looking unlikely for the Swiss legend; indeed it is difficult to see Federer reclaiming his crown from either Nadal or Djokovic. Victory won’t come at the French, Roger has always struggled on clay, whilst his seemingly invincible presence at Wimbledon has long been diminished, after suffering defeats to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych in the last two years. His best chance of victory lies on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows, but Federer is 30 now and a long, hard season could see one the greatest ever to grace the court considering his future long before then. Everyone involved in the game will hope this is not the case, indeed Roger is still the premier crowd drawer for major tournaments as people turn out en masse to see his seemingly effortless performances, but it is hard to see the man, so modest in character, carrying on without the taste of victory at the end of each tournament.
As for Murray, the British dream still hangs by a thread. Once again, the gallant Scot reached his traditional Grand Slam semi-final before falling at the death. He has given the public a little more to cling onto this time round in the manner of his defeat to Djokovic though, as their five set thriller was far more competitive than Murray has ever managed during the latter stages of a Major before. Had he taken one of those break points at 5-5 in the final set, victory could well have been his and who knows, a potential chance finally deposing Fred Perry of his position as Britain’s last Major winner. The match will have done wonders for his mentality though, as he managed to stay in touch throughout and not throw away crucial points that the Murray of yesteryear has done in big games. Working alongside Ivan Lendl could prove to be a masterstroke, as his new coach has been there, done that and can now show Murray the way to win on the big occasion. People shouldn’t get too excited though, especially having seen the quality that Djokovic and Nadal produced in their epic encounter, as although Murray produced one of the performances of his life during the semi-final, he still didn’t have enough for Djokovic, who then raised his game to actually lift the trophy. But at least hope still remains.
It could be a remarkable year for men’s tennis then, if this tournament is anything to go by. There is also the added bonus of having the Olympics, which is rather like the fifth major, therefore offering the fans another chance to watch the high quality tennis we have seen over the last two weeks. The players will now size each other up on resumption of the ATP tour, before clashing again in Paris in the Springtime in what promises to be an intriguing tournament.